"Captain Salvation" (1927) is a silent romantic drama starring Lars Hanson, Pauline Starke, Marceline Day, and Ernest Torrence. Directed by John S. Robertson and adapted from the novel by Frederick William Wallace, this film is the tale of a minister who is ostracized when he shows compassion to a prostitute. The story begins in the spring of 1840, in Maple Harbor, a small waterfront town of New England. A seafaring lover, Anson Campbell, played by Lars Hanson, returns from theology school. He is expected to wed Mary Phillips, played by Marceline Day, one of the girls from town, and become a minister in the local church. Campbell's plans are crushed when a prostitute, Bess Morgan, played by Pauline Starke, arrives in Maple Harbor via a shipwreck and none of the townspeople want to help her. In fact, most of them would rather have seen her drown or locked in the town jail. Campbell, appalled at his fellow church members, takes Bess into his home and nurses her back to health. At this point, the townspeople begin gossipping and insinuating that Campbell and Bess are living in sin. They even threaten to take the pulpit away from Campbell. The young minister, furious with his fellow church members and distraught that his fiancee doesn't believe him, books passage for Bess and himself on a ship, The Panther. However, Campbell soon discovers the ship's cargoes are prisoners who are mistreated by the wicked crew and the captain, played by Ernest Torrence, is a lecherous man. The young minister falls into despair until the captain threatens Bess. Will Campbell be able to rescue Bess before it is too late?"Captain Salvation" is a major MGM studio obscurity largely because its leading stars, Lars Hanson and Pauline Starke, are forgotten today. Lars Hanson began his career as a stage actor in his native Sweden. He made his film debut in "Dolken" (1915), which was directed by Mauritz Stiller. Hanson gained international acclaim for his role as the title character in the Stiller film, "Gosta Berlings saga" (1924), which featured a young Stiller protege named Greta Garbo. Hanson arrived in Hollywood to star opposite Lillian Gish in the "Scarlet Letter" (1926). He starred in a total of six American silent films from 1926 to 1928. Seeing that his thick Swedish accent might be a liability in American films, Hanson returned to Europe during the advent of sound. Pauline Starke was initially an extra in D.W. Griffith's "The Birth of a Nation" (1915) and "Intolerance" (1916). Starke had the look of a country girl, unspoiled, natural, and unfamiliar with makeup. She was featured in a number of films produced by the Fine Arts Company, which Griffith was the supervising producer. In 1925, MGM signed Starke to a contract, and her first starring role there was as a rugged, outdoor type in "Sun-Up" (1925). However, MGM quickly changed her image to that of a glamorous Hollywood-style star. Nowhere is this change more apparent than in the two-color Technicolor extravaganza, "The Viking" (1928), which was Starke's last MGM release. Starke starred in a couple of talkies for Universal and one for Columbia before she retired from the screen in 1935.
In "Captain Salvation," Lars Hanson is excellent as the tormented minister, but he does overact in crucial dramatic scenes. Pauline Starke gives the best performance of all the cast members as the scarlet woman who vows to reform. The film is visually beautiful with its breathtaking ocean views and the settings of a small New England harbor town. The shipwreck scene was superbly done. Perhaps what is most impressive about the film is its criticism of strict religious judgment, discrimination, and gossip without being so preachy. Instead, the film advocates kindness, mercy, and sympathy for others. "Captain Salvation" is a silent gem that is definitely worth discovering.
*It is interesting to note that the Pre-Code elements in the film such as rape, prostitution, and suicide would have been eliminated less than a decade later.